Pip the yellow lab is getting older, but she's experienced. She knows where a wounded bird is likely to hide, she can mark more than one retrieve, and she works nice and steady. With her hip dysplasia, one day's work for Pip means two days off to recuperate in front of the wood stove.
I can hear her snoring over the crackling of the wood
Spud is a retriever par excellence. Quirky but honest. I know when she has brought me a wounded bird, because she lays down with it, instead of sitting and giving it to me. I think because she can hold it down with a big paw if it flaps and struggles.
Spud works out problems and finds her own unique solutions. At the end of a work day, I put a wool dog coat on Spud to keep her joints warm. When she's sufficiently warm and dry, she simply chews through the strap and deposits the coat in her bed, ready for collection (and repair) rather than wait for me to take it off of her. I stitch the strap back on for the next shoot day.
Look at their concentration -
Pip and Spud are watching pheasants flying over, looking for injured or fallen birds. I adore my retrievers.
Spaniels are a different gun dog. Adrenaline-fuelled workaholics. Dulcie is a come early, stay late dog. She has her own way of telling me that she's spotted a wounded bird and please let her go get it. Now. Pleasepleasepleaseplease.
She jumps on me and implores me with those eyes. Those spaniel eyes.
She knows when birds are hit birds. I know if I let her go, she'll bring me back a bird with just a few pellets in its leg, or a wing tip out. I don't know how she does it.
By the last drive Dulcie had debris in her eyes and was getting cold sat marking birds on top of a windy hillside. It didn't slow her down or dim her enthusiasm, but I took off my coat and put it around her anyway, until it was time to work again.
She surely needed it more than I did.
Quincy, Podge and Dakota came out on Saturday's shoot, picking up and beating (driving birds from cover). I'm trying Quincy in all different permutations, to see which dogs she compliments and works best with as a team. So far, she's fit in with every scenario, and with all jobs.
Quincy went in the beating line Monday for her first full day as a beating dog. As a beating dog, Quincy is expected to hunt and flush birds close to her handler, and come back as soon as I whistle her in. Basically, be a well-behaved little dog. Apart from one minor infraction when she scented a fox and ran on to investigate, Quincy did great for such a young dog. She will be 2 years old on Christmas day.
Quincy has another job to do this time of year: duck flighting. On the road between the sheep and horse fields, there is a small pond that we use for duck shooting. The ducks are fed in to encourage them to take up residence. We don't want the ducks to become too domesticated, so we rouse them off the pond and stir them up a bit.
That's where a water-loving, energetic Labrador comes in handy -
She's flushed the ducks once, and she's now waiting for them to circle around and land back on the pond. She waits for the command to 'Get on' and throws herself into the icy water, sending ducks back up into the air again. A few minutes of this is enough for the ducks, but Quincy would spend all day here if I let her.
Today Quincy worked with Podge the cocker spaniel and Dulcie, in the driving rain. Tomorrow Pip will have to drag her little yellow butt off the sheepskin rug and do a day's work with Spud.
For work, for companionship, and for the laughs - I just don't know what I would do without my dogs.